On Thursday, Connecticut House Republican’s Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned as the word spread about a federal investigation into how candidates used a direct mail firm out of Florida. People asked me if that wasn’t the same firm that my opponent used in 2012. It was. Yet I don’t think she is any more culpable in this than Chris Donovan was in the improprieties that took place in his Congressional campaign. It is easy to suggest that the candidate either knew, or should have known about possible illegal activity. It is too easy. It doesn’t get to the real issues. Perhaps it simply reflects one of the bigger issues.
In the Hartford Courant article about Gallo, former state GOP Chairman Chris Healy, talking about direct mail firm simply states, “we got a better deal”. A cynic might ask what that deal was. Was there any sort of illegal quid quo pro in the better deal? But this, too, perhaps doesn’t get to the real issue.
I often quote Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture in my blog, and I’ll provide a more complete version of one of my favorite quotes here:
OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And I think that’s absolutely lovely. And the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that
I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important.
And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.
What candidates want is to get elected, but most of them don’t get elected, they just get experience. This experience might help them get elected the next time around. It might turn them bitter against the system, or it might inspire something greater.
Why do we want to get elected? Hopefully, it is to make their communities better places, and this gets back to the quote from Chris Healy. What is that ‘better deal’ he spoke about?
On my campaign, we often spoke about who we would purchase our services from. We wanted to make our community a better place, and we argued whether it was better to get services from companies in the district, or if it made more sense to use less expensive companies in other parts of Connecticut. It was a difficult balance, and I don’t know how well we really did on it, but at least we didn’t spend most of our budget, a large amount of which came from a Connecticut state grant, with companies in Florida.
We also had people offer us great deals because they were friends that believed in our campaign. We sought to make sure that everyone was paid fairly for the work they did and that there was no expectation of quid quo pro, real or perceived.
Yet most importantly, the focus was on issues. I wanted to talk about health and education. I did. I wished I could have gotten into more discussions about these issues. I wish people would engage more on the issues our state faces instead of making decisions based on a few pieces of mail crafted by political consultants in Florida. I wish more political coverage in the traditional media could be about the issues, and not the horse race and the corruption.
Hopefully, I moved the needle a little bit in that direction. No, I didn’t get elected, but I got “the better deal”.
Last year, as a member of the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows Program the group I was part of mapped out plans for bring Health Impact Assessments into Connecticut policy decisions, especially the state legislative process.
A key component of this plan was to improve the way health advocates work together during the legislative session. We set up a Google Group, CT Health Equity Bills to discuss this. As we enter another legislative session, members are encouraged to discuss upcoming bills and opportunities to testify.
I must admit, prior to becoming a CT Health Foundation fellow, I would often be asked to support various bills, and I rarely thought about these bills in terms of the impact they would have on health equity, and I suspect that many legislators don’t think about bills in terms of health equity the way I believe they should.
The Connecticut Health Foundation has published a blog post, Things We’ll Be Looking Out For During the 2014 Legislative Session. While it doesn’t address specific bills, it provides an important framework for this year’s session. I have been speaking with other organizations and hope to share thoughts about their agendas as well.
Meanwhile, I’m already getting messages from activists to support different bills. One of the first bills I received a message about was S.B. No. 23 AN ACT CONCERNING BENEFIT CORPORATIONS AND ENCOURAGING SOCIAL ENTERPRISE.. Friends have pointed me to a Change.org petition uring the senate to take up SB 23 this year.
it is early in the session and I don’t know what SB 23 is going to look like by the end of the session, but I strongly support the goal. Yet I hadn’t been thinking of this bill in terms of health equity. My gut feeling is that it won’t harm efforts for health equity and has the potential to benefit health equity efforts, but beyond that, I haven’t really thought it out much.
Then, at dinner last night, I got into a fascinating discussion with a friend from Yale’s Global Health Initiative. She was at a conference where people were talking about using a social impact exchange as a means of encouraging social entrepreneurship and investment in Haiti to deal with the issues of cholera.
While I do expect the passage of SB 23 to lead quickly to the issue of Social Impact Bonds, or the establishing of a social impact exchange, and a resulting improvement in efforts to address health equity in the state, it does seem like a step in the right direction.
Another bill I was contacted about was S.B. No. 120 AN ACT CONCERNING DYSLEXIA AND SPECIAL EDUCATION.. “To include dyslexia detection, recognition and intervention education as part of the professional development program for teachers and to amend the state IEP form to include dyslexia.”
With sponsors ranging from Sen. Bye to Rep. Cafero, this seems like a pretty straight forward broadly supported bill. Yet even with a bill like this, it is important to think about how it relates to health equity. Are there disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia in Connecticut? How are they tracked? How will they be tracked and corrected?
A final bill for this blog post: H.B. No. 5144 AN ACT CONCERNING ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES AND PARENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION FOR ADOPTED PERSONS., “To provide adult adopted persons, twenty-one years of age or older, access to their biological parents' health information and information in the person's original birth certificate or record.”
A friend contacted me about this bill. She was adopted as a child and does not have access to information about her biological parents. While it is easy to think of this in terms idle curiosity that an adopted child might have about their history, there are important health issues to consider. Are there biological family history information that could help the adopted child better deal with their own health? Again, I don’t know much about the health equity aspects of this. Are there disparities in access to birth and health information by adopted children along racial or ethnic lines? Would this bill help address such disparities?
Over the coming days, I expect I will hear more about these and other bills. I hope you’ll join me in thinking about the impact these bills would have on health equity in our state.
A few weeks ago,Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his State of the State address to addiction.
In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state. It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised.
At work we talk about treating people struggling with addiction. We have some great programs to help and part of my job is to spread the word about these programs.
The nature of the addiction problem came to light recently in a communications meeting. We were tracking various news stories and saw one about Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the guests cited some report which claimed that two out of three Americans are affected by addictions amongst their friends or family. I looked around the room. Everyone is the room had someone close to them that was struggling with addiction. That two in three number may be a bit low.
Today, a friend shared the article, Russell Brand: my life without drugs. Please, go out and read it.
At CHC, we provide telemedicine services to help providers around the country provide better services for those struggling with addiction. Project ECHO - Buprenorphine helps primary care providers treat patients struggling with opioid addiction. It brings together experts in several fields to provide both experiential and didactic education in treating addiction.
Our outreach teams work on a related issue, health stigmas. How do we reduce the stigmas around various health conditions, like suffering from addiction or being HIV positive? How do we make it easier for people to get the treatment they need?
We celebrate when our friends are in remission from cancer, knowing in the back of our minds that it could come back at any moment. Why don’t we have similar celebrations for friends in recovery from addiction? Yes, there may be some celebrations at a narcotics anonymous meeting or something like that, but we are a long way from standing with people fighting health problems the way we should.
This morning, my Chromebook was acting weird, sluggish. It wouldn’t save what I was writing. In the end, I lost a draft of a blog post which I had put a lot of work in. It’s just one more thing in what is been a frustrating few days. Yesterday, one of the dishes from my mother’s house, from my childhood, broke. Things have been very stressful at work. Blah.
Anyway, I had started my blog post reflecting on Groundhog’s Day. It may be that Punxsutawney will see six more weeks of winter, or perhaps those in the media spotlight will continue to experience cold slippery conditions, but any woodchuck here in Woodbridge would have difficulty seeing much beyond the end of his burrow, let alone his shadow.
The top news story of the day that Google News select for me was about Gov. Christie’s letter to his supporters. The whole thing reads like he is helping write the libretto for Christie and the GWB, an opera on the scale of Einstein on the Beach,Nixon in China, or perhaps Brokeback Mountain.
The next story was about the Super Bowl. I wonder how many people will be talking about Gov. Christie as they drive across the George Washington Bridge on their way to the big game. I expect traffic will be pretty bad.
Buried much deeper in the news was reports that the death toll has now risen to 16 in the volcano in Indonesia.
Yesterday, Dan Kennedy posted a status on Facebook, talking about the State Department report on the XL Pipeline. It has now received fifty six comments, most of them very insightful well thought out about climate change, transportation, cost benefit analysis, stakeholder analysis and so on.
It provided an interesting data point with which to think about Howard Rheingold’s video, Why the history of the public sphere matters in the Internet age. This is a video that was posted back in 2009 and recent reappeared in my social media feed. It has lots of interesting ideas to explore, and I’d love to hear thoughts about it five years later.
Was the discussion around Dan’s post a good example of the public sphere online? Was it an anomaly? What can we learn from it? I was planning to write more on this after I took a break to go to the dump. On the way, I listened to David Sedaris on NPR reading his New Yorker article, Now We Are Five.
It was a moving recounting of issues in his family and it made me stop and think. Is it the public sphere that we need to be thinking about, or is there something bigger, something more important? What about an empathetic sphere? What about a creative sphere? How do these spheres relate to one another? Do the overlap? Does one encompass another? They they part of some giant three dimensional Venn Diagram?
What does this public creative empathetic sphere look like and how does it behave? It’s still foggy outside, and I’m not really sure. So, I’ll get ready and head off to church for Candlemas.
Yesterday, in response to the mall shooting in Maryland, a friend on Facebook talked about her experiences working in mall security in North Carolina. In the comments, people discussed the role of guns in American society, but she replied,
I just don't think this is about guns.
Something ELSE is wrong...
there is something new wrong with us.
And we need to figure out what it is.
I would like to suggest that there are, perhaps, several things happening in our world today that have come together to create this deadly climate.
The first issue, I think, is economic uncertainty. Here in the United States, and around the world, we’ve seen difficult economic circumstances. The meltdown of American financial institutions and the great recession. Financial difficulties in Europe and austerity budgets. When people think about the Arab Spring, they too often overlook the self-immolation of an impoverished worker in Tunisia which acted as a catalyst for the major changes there. Today, economic disparities appear to be getting worse and worse, and everyone is fighting to hold on to what they have.
Yet this is nothing new. The Weimar Republic was known for its economic difficulties as well. Let’s hope we don’t go down that road again.
Changes in our world, like the globalization of trade and climate change throw additional monkey wrenches into economic stability.
People who have studied Marx may feel inclined to link some of what is going on the Marx’s theory of alienation.
Alienation (Entfremdung) is the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity. The theoretic basis of alienation within the capitalist mode of production is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine his or her life and destiny...
Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realised human being, as an economic entity, he or she is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximal amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists.
It is not surprising to see people lash out against a loss of ability to determine their destiny in violence.
This is further complicated by the increased role of money in politics. As economic disparity increases, the voice of all but the richest few get drowned out, and the richest use their money to have laws and policies instituted that protect or even expand their wealth. This in turn leads to greater alienation and greater probability of violence.
Related to this is how poverty fuels racism and homophobia. As poor undereducated people suffer from the economic disparities and alienation, they look for someone to lash out against. In the Weimar Republic, it was the Jews who were the primary victims of this out lash, although homosexuals and trade unionists were also lashed out against.
Here in twenty first century America, with homosexuals finally gaining equal rights to marry and with a mixed race President, people of color and homosexuals are a frequent target of these outlashes.
Yet there is one more factor, that is very important, and that is the changing media landscape. Again, we see the effect of money in politics as it relates to the political landscape. Large media corporations benefit from the money in politics and they seek to shape politics through their programming to protect their economic interests.
At the same time, we have Internet communications becoming more prevalent. Ten years ago, the media went after Gov. Howard Dean in his Presidential campaign by the now infamous misrepresentation of the ‘Dean Scream’. They took one of Dean’s campaign slogans, “You have the power” and appropriated it to themselves, asserting that the Washington Press Corps is really who has the power.
Now, as you look at discussions online, they are becoming more and more stratified and confrontational. We are living in filter bubbles’, where we don’t interact with people with other beliefs, except to yell at them.
Anyone who has read the anonymous comments on a newspaper website or watch Sunday morning cable news shows shouldn’t be surprised at the increase of violence in our country.
As the world gets smaller, the growing economic disparities become more apparent, and we see more violence.
The question is, how much worse will it get before we see a turning of the tide and a decrease in violence? What will it take to refocus from the culture wars to the effect that class wars are having on our society?
I don’t know, but I’m heading off to a church that is focused on feeding and housing the poor, and not on passing judgment on people because of the color or sexual orientation.